September 6, 2009

Top Chef: Right into the Danger Zone

Filed under: Top Chef — Chris @ 5:59 pm

What did we learn this week? For one thing, we learned that that some of the airmen at Nellis Air Force Base are returning from deployment in theater and others are preparing to deploy and that it is therefore a matter of great pride and no little emotion to prepare for them a buffet lunch. More importantly, we learned that one must never let any consideration—seasonality, balance, the preferences of the quote-unquote customers—come before the goal of making a dish that will “wow” the judges.

We’ve seen it time and time again: the cheftestants are asked to collaboratively prepare a meal and, in service of the master plan, some schnook gets stuck making a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes. And the judges look at the schnook and say, “How in the world did you think you were going to win this competition with a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes?” And the schnook says, “No meal is complete without a salad or a dessert or a side of potatoes!” And the judges say, “Go home.” Don’t put yourself in that position. If that means serving eight courses of pork belly, go right ahead. Do you want to be the person who says, “We already had seven courses of pork belly, so I made… pasta salad.” Rule A, people. Learn it, love it, live it.

(I can tell you, for the record, that pasta salad is on Tom Colicchio’s list of dishes that could never possibly “wow” him. I have struggled long and hard, but I actually can’t think of a way that a pasta salad could ever possibly be a successful dish on Top Chef. You might get lucky and not get kicked off for it, but you’re sure as hell not going to win.)

Things started off looking pretty good for my predictions. Jesse and Ron got paired up for the express reason that all the other cheftestants didn’t want to work with them. They immediately established a negative rapport. They decided to make chowder on a hot summer day—a decision that raised eyebrows from their fellow cheftestants and the judges—and then squabbled with the other cheftestants over access to the proper equipment with which to prepare it. But, in the end, the chowder was pretty tasty and they didn’t even get called out for being among the worst. Lesson learned: you don’t get kicked off Top Chef for making a pretty tasty chowder—even on a hot summer day—if some other knucklehead made pasta salad.

After landing herself at Judges’ Table with that ill-considered salad, Preeti once again distinguished herself with a disregard for Rule E (“Be prepared to defend your dish at Judges’ Table”). While Laurine admitted that the dish was weak and showed just enough sense to save her own skin, Preeti dug in her heels and talked her way into elimination (“I thought our dish was really good. In terms of flavor, I thought it was better than a lot of the other dishes.” Uh-huh). It didn’t help that, by refusing to turn on each other or provide any specific information about who did what and why, Preeti and Laurine forced the judges to make a decision based almost solely on Judges’ Table conduct.

Predictions: The weakest links are pretty obviously Jesse, Ron, Laurine, and Mattin. I say, in the absence of an unscheduled meltdown, Jesse is the next to go.

Random Thoughts:

  • Just what exactly did Michael do to that slab bacon that Tom Colicchio found so impressive?
  • Mike was all class this week. He actually talked himself into the bottom group by failing to take any credit at all for Michael’s winning dish. He also fell prey to the Ashley fallacy that association with one good dish will immunize you from criticism for a bad one. It might save you from elimination (as it did here), but it won’t stop the judges from griping. They would have preferred he hadn’t made the shrimp salad and just basked in Michael’s reflected glory (like Eli did, apparently).
  • There is some talk of Jennifer being the season’s designated villain. I don’t get it. Sure, she can be a bit curt in the kitchen and she fits into the “pushy woman” box along with Tiffani from Season 1. But, if anything, the other cheftestants seem to appreciate Jennifer’s no bullshit, no drama, results-oriented approach. In this weeks episode, she was ending fights, not starting them.

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